MOST mature gardens have a patch of ivy somewhere, and, if it
has been allowed to climb and reach the extent of its support, it
is probably flowering now. The spherical arrangement of flowers is
a good source of nectar for insects late in the year.
The tangle of stems and foliage is a protective cover for small
mammals and hibernating butterfly species; so hold back with the
secateurs. This will also allow the flowers to develop into
berries, which are a favourite of blackbirds, but are also eaten by
many other birds through the winter.
Some may consider the common ivy rather dull. There are other
British natives with a good yield of what we casually call
"berries", unless we are botanists. The spindle tree, Euonymus
europaeus, bears pendent capsules with the uncommon
characteristic among dry fruits of bright coloration.
Not only that: they rupture to reveal even brighter seeds. The
cultivar "Red Cascade" has particularly abundant rosy-red
"berries", and has decorative orange seeds that are loved by birds.
The spindle is deciduous, but the dying leaf colours of crimson,
pink, and gold further enhance the autumn show. It is a fast
grower, reaching 1.8 metres in five years. Euonymus
planipes, from the Far East, is similar, and goes by the
common name dingle-dangle tree.
It is always a pleasure to come across a guelder rose,
Viburnum opulus, in the countryside at this time of year,
with its deep-red leaves and fruit to match. It suits an informal
or woodland corner of the garden, and can be bought as the
yellow-berried cultivar "Xanthocarpum". Dark fruits are rich in
antioxidants, which may explain why garden birds tend to eat red-
and purple-berried fruit in preference to orange and yellow. Your
Viburnum "Xanthocarpum" will be raided only in hard
We tend to grow honeysuckle, Lonicera periclymenum, for
its heady-scented flowers in summer. It is a twining shrub rather
than a climber, common in hedgerows. Creamy-yellow-flowered "Graham
Thomas" is a more garden-worthy form, with a supreme scent and a
long-flowering season. The flowers develop into a tight pyramid of
red berries liked by bullfinches, warblers, and thrushes.
Cotoneasters, and closely related pyracanthas, although alien
species, confer a similar benefit to wildlife to our native ivy:
namely, winter berries, and nectar when it is in short supply. The
widely grown Cotoneaster horizontalis is lovely as a wall
shrub, or to cover a bank where its herringbone structure of
branches displays the tiny red fruit (which are technically
Cotoneaster lacteus makes a good evergreen boundary
shrub or hedge. It is tolerant of a windy spot, and bears large
clusters of red berries that persist well into winter.
Cotoneaster salicifolius makes an attractive and graceful
specimen tree for a small garden. It grows to about seven metres,
has evergreen willow-like foliage, white flowers in June, and
dangling bunches of fiery fruit.
So consider adding berries to your plot, and, if you really need
to cut back your ivy, do it in early spring - after it has provided
its bounty, and before the nesting season.